WeWork officially launches equity-free Labs programme in Singapore


Today’s launch marks the first foray by WeWork into Southeast Asia

With the goal of helping early-stage entrepreneurs move into the next stage of their startup journey, WeWork launched its ‘ in Singapore today, marking its first foray into Southeast Asia.

The programme — which cannot be compared to an accelerator or incubator — is a for-pay programme that does not take any equity and works like a bespoke mentorship platform for participants.

WeWork Labs will continue expansion with a launch in Bangkok in Q1, 2019. WeWork representatives hinted at a long-term goal of bringing Labs to most of the Southeast Asian cities where WeWork has an office.

The idea is to build a regional (and global) network that entrepreneurs can tap into for advice, business opportunities and market access.

One of the key issues as an entrepreneur in Southeast Asia is a fragmented market. How do you scale across this fragmented market quickly?” asked Adrian Tan, Head of Labs, WeWork Southeast Asia, during the launch event. 

The answer posited by Turochas “T” Fuad, the Managing Director of WeWork Southeast Asia, is creating, and then leveraging, a supportive ecosystem.

A serial entrepreneur himself, he explained that starting and growing a company is a lonely experience, and a core contributor to success is surrounding yourself with people who understand the experience.

One key word is mentorship. Throughout [my] last three startups, a lot of [the success] has to do with the people you meet along the way,” he said. 

How does it work?

The programme works differently than an accelerator in the sense that it is not a 12-week intensive curriculum. The startups have agency over their own speed, scaling and direction. The idea is to give them directions, options and recommendations.

For example, if a company is trying to hire from the vibrant Vietnamese developer workforce, WeWork Labs wants to help them shorten the process by connecting Founders to the correct people who can help them navigate the process, instead of the Founder figuring it out on their own.

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A lot of the companies entering WeWork Labs are very early-stage companies who may not get into the competitive accelerator programmes. WeWork wants to provide support to these young Founders who may be going through the entrepreneurship process for the first time. Then, ideally, they are more ready to join a full-blown accelerator.

To facilitate this, WeWork Labs is building three channels that attract different people in the business community. They are as follows:

WeWork Labs: These are the Labs that are owned and operated by WeWork. They are housed within the co-working space and are run by WeWork staff members. 

WeWork Partner Labs: A sponsorship programme that offers the opportunity for accelerators, investors or other initiatives to run their programme within the WeWork Labs umbrella. 

WeWork Enterprise Innovation Labs and Services: This targets enterprise clients who want to help facilitate corporate innovation. This may mean technology sprints, innovation labs or facilitating the constant communication needed the help startups and corporates work together. 

The age-old question of Southeast Asia fragmentation

The core pitch of the launch was presenting WeWork Labs as an option for bridging the legal, cultural and language gaps that make Southeast Asia a uniquely challenging market to conquer.

Tech News readers might recognise Tan, who is heading the programme in Southeast Asia. He started VIISA, a Vietnamese accelerator launched in 2016.

A Singaporean, Tan’s experience launching a programme in Vietnam provides him with a unique experience working within the  regional fragmentation.

It is the well-known challenge of Southeast Asia, but the reality is most entrepreneurs (even serial entrepreneurs) start a company in the same country and then expand from their home base. It is rare to find the startup stakeholder who has launched, from ground-up, two initiatives in economies as vastly different as Vietnam and Singapore.

With this experience,

Tan understands that there is a lot of work to be done to connect the Southeast Asia landscape.

“Southeast Asia is hard. While every country wants to be the next 4.0 and get there and help the startup ecosystem, in terms of infrastructure and access, it’s not the same. So a lot of challenges we see is helping startups in Thailand expand to Singapore or helping startups in Vietnam expand regionally. The level of access to mentors, capital and employees is still very different [across the region],” he told Tech News.

WeWork is building its network effect and while no one company will solve Southeast Asia’s fragmentation, Labs hopes it can make life easier for its entrepreneurs.

For WeWork in Southeast Asia, 2018 has been defined by rapid expansion. Next week marks the 1-year anniversary for the company in Southeast Asia. In that time it has opened offices in Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta. Globally, it has 335 locations in 83 cities.

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